Is Romania a Third World Country?

Most people know very little about Romania. For most of them, Romania and Transylvania are the same thing: a place where vampires live, Dracula still rules the lands, hordes of stray dogs roam the streets while beggars and poverty and orphans are hidden behind the concrete walls of ugly communist buildings…

Is Romania a third world country? Is it dangerous so that visiting it or moving here would be a risk? Are vampires sucking your blood if you go out after dark?

The questions above (well, maybe just the first two of them) are usually asked by people who have to go to Romania and I will answer the first one in today’s article, while the second was already answered in the article I linked to.

Romania, a 3rd world country?

3rd world country

Originally, “third world country” had nothing (or very little) to do with what the term means today. Back in the days, when the term first appeared, it referred to countries which, during the mid-70s (the Cold War era) were not aligned to either US & Allies or Soviets & Allies.

However, today, “third world” mostly refers to developing nations.

This is basically a politically correct term that refers to a very poor country which still has a lot to improve in many areas, from infrastructure to quality of life, from corruption to medical services and everything in between.

The term also evolved and again some political correctness came into play and the term “second world” was created.

Initially, the term referred to countries that were controlled by the Soviet Union back in the days. Romania was included in the list, just like all countries in the region.

But today, the term “second world country” refers to countries that are more advanced than “third world” countries, but not quite 1st world yet.

This is pretty confusing, in the end. But what both terms say is that a third world country or a second world one is a developing country – one that still has some work to do in order to reach greatness (which, again, is a relative term).

So our questions should turn from “Is Romania a Third World Country” to “Is Romania a Developing Country?”

The sad truth – for Romanians at least – is that yes, Romania is a developing country, according to the International Monetary fund (and common sense, I would say).

On a happier note, there are 154 countries considered “developing countries” out of the total of 196 in the world, according to that list.

Some big name countries that are still considered “developing countries” are China, Russia, Turkey or South Africa.

On the same list, we have countries that I know very little about, like the Kyrgyz Republic, Lao PDR or Timor Leste.

So putting all these countries in the same bucket is definitely not the best choice, but this is how things stand at the moment.

Yes, they might all be officially developing or third world countries, but you can’t compare Romania to China in terms of development, nor Vanuatu with Russia.

Actually, you can rarely look at two countries on that list and say that you’d get a similar life if you choose either of them. Or that they should be avoided at all costs.

Thailand and Indonesia are, in the end, on the list of developing countries and there are so many world travelers and expats living there and loving every second of it – and for all the right reasons!

The same goes with most South American countries or even other European countries that are still “developing”: Croatia, Poland or Hungary, to name a few.

Not to mention the fact that both Russia and China – both officially developing countries or third world countries (or at least “second world countries”) – are two of the world’s superpowers. So there’s a lot of nuance to consider here.

Third country living in Romania?

Even though technically a country is considered part of the third world, things will probably be not as bad as this unwanted title makes it sound.

Sure, you can’t expect to find in Romania the infrastructure, economic power and even the same mentality as you will get in first world countries – from the US to Germany to Australia, but it’s really not that bad either!

It all depends on what your expectations are. Most likely, if you come from a first world country or a country that’s more developed than Romania, you will feel the limitations more than others would.

However, this doesn’t mean that Romania – or any other developing country on the list – is not extremely enjoyable for most of the people.

Beautiful Oradea, Romania

No place out there is perfect and Romania definitely has its own problems. Depending on your situation, you will get hit with more or fewer of them.

If you’re just traveling here for a few days or weeks, you will most likely enjoy the experience and feel that there’s nothing wrong with the country.

If you plan to move here and spend more time – months or years – you will start to notice more and more areas that need to be developed. I doubt that there’s any country on Earth where that won’t happen, though!

In the larger cities – and even the smaller ones – a lot has been invested, so roads are better and safer, things look better, the buildings are being repaired and new ones are being built constantly.

Since Romania joined the EU, things have improved greatly and they still are. Romania is growing and developing at tremendous speed.

This article was originally written back in 2014, then updated in 2019 before today’s update. And during this time, things have improved quite a lot!

This proves that Romania was indeed a developing nation. It still is, because things are far from perfect at the moment. But they are moving in the right direction and I am sure that a few years from now, everything will look even better.

Romania is safe, Romanians are generally friendly and you can find all the luxury and the products that you would anywhere else in the world.

So in the end it all depends on you: will you let these problems ruin your experience or consider them part of the package and leave them behind, enjoying the good stuff that Romania has to offer?

I personally believe that we should leave this “first world” and “third world” country rankings behind!

Yes, Romania is considered a developing country officially, but this is based on some truly outdated methods and ranking systems. Things have changed a lot, many countries caught up and few were left behind.

Poverty makes things worse – and Romania is by no means a country where its citizens are rich – but still, calling it “third world” sounds a bit wrong and definitely an exaggeration.

Like many countries of this “list of shame,” Romania has a lot to offer and is appreciated by most people who visit, so don’t let this “first world / third world” thing influence you in any way. There’s a lot to love about Romania and all the other developing countries in the world.

And while you’re busy discovering the sights in Romania, there are times when you simply have to access your work.

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17 thoughts on “Is Romania a Third World Country?”

  1. According to quite a few Americans that I know here, it is a third world country. According to my experiences, it’s not. Everyone has things that bother them or things they wish that were more like the US. It comes down to if the things that bother you outweigh the benefits of living here. For me, the little annoyances don’t add up to much and I love it here. For others it’s too much for them to handle, so they move on, or more likely, move back.

    Reply
    • That’s really well said, Kevin! I don’t think there’s any country where you only have Pros and Cons. In the end, it’s up for everybody to decide if the Romania Pros outweigh the Cons. I’m happy to hear that you still love it here!

      Reply
  2. There used to be another category called the “Second World” which included industrialized countries in the Soviet bloc of countries. These were supposedly more advanced than the Third World and, for the longest time, tried to compete with the so-called First World, that is Western Europe, the USA and Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. When the Second World collapsed, they definitely fell back into the developing category.

    After a while there came about a new term BRICS for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. These were supposed to be a step ahead of the other developing countries. Then we can’t forget the Asian Tiger countries… Oh, I’m exhausted, I’m tired of all these acronyms and categories. I noticed that for investment search purposes, Eastern Europe is considered a separate category from the developing world. Maybe that means they are a step above the other developing regions? The United States has just reneged on its Paris Accord obligations to fight global warming. What category does that put us in? A rogue nation trying to kill the rest of the world? A nation that can’t even provide health insurance for all its citizens? Okay, please excuse the rant.

    No, I think many people from developed countries like retiring in developing countries because their pensions/social security go so much further there. They get more bang for their buck and are willing to put up with some inconveniences. Usually, the happiest ones are those that “marry” into the society so they have a spouse to navigate the byzantine bureaucracies. Some of these destinations even have fairly decent health care systems. Romania definitely falls in this category and certainly deserves consideration for its natural beauty, cultural offerings and its European location.

    For many Americans, language presents a significant barrier to their feeling comfortable away from home. I personally feel Romanian is just as easy to pick up as Spanish. That means it does require effort but success comes pretty quickly. I have lived in Japan now for 14 years and have pretty much given up ever having a Japanese conversation above second grade level. But the Japanese wife sure has made life pretty pain-free here. Oh, “economical” and “economic” sound similar but they have very different meanings.

    Reply
    • Very well said, Stuart. Rants and all, I think that your comment is spot on. Probably something similar goes for those growing up in the developing countries who want to experience life in a First World country – hence the love most Romanians have for the US mainly and other richer countries out there.

      Thanks for spotting my mistake in the text – I have corrected it now. Little by little, my English is getting better 🙂

      Reply
  3. I don’t consider Romania a third world country and I have spent quite a bit of time there. A developing country? I feel Romania has a lot of upside meaning there is a lot of room for economic growth which I believe will come soon.

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  4. Glad to see you are promoting the down side of Romania C. 🙂 My fear is people will come to enjoy Romania as I do and they will crowed me out. My wife is Romanian and very defensive of Romanian image portrayed by the media. I am winning her over with the idea that you do not want the world to know how wonderful Romania is as they would flood it and rune it for the rest of us. So I do agree with you C. Romania is a third world country full of Vampires and rabid dogs. Do not forget it is a communist and you could easily be tossed in jail by the corrupt police force. Stay Away!!

    “The sun shines through the kings window the same as the poor mans.. make of it what you will.” Thoreau

    Reply
    • Haha, you’re not the only one fearing that more people will come and ruin the experience. But cheap countries in SE Asia are in a similar situation and doing OK apparently, so I don’t think that will happen. And anyway, Romania still flies under the radar in most cases.

      Reply
  5. I wouldn’t go as far as calling Romania as a whole a 3rd world country, however there’s no denying there is a lot to do to improve the situation.

    For background info, I’m French, grew up partly in the Caribbeans, studied in France, worked in the US, and lived in Romania (Sibiu, Brasov, and currently Bacau.) I also studied in Poland for about 6 months. I like to believe I have some perspective in regards to living abroad.

    In general, cost of living and state of the country go hand in hand. Romania is a country that has problems with money: the people don’t earn enough to be able to afford repairs and the politicians are too corrupt or too dumb to wisely spend what’s available. So, low cost of living = little tax to collect = poor shape of public services. But let’s not turn into Venezuela either, skyrocketing inflation isn’t helping anyone. At the other end of the spectrum you have countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. It’s very expensive to live there but they consistently rank among the places on earth for best overall quality of life. Money isn’t everything, but it helps.

    Luckily for me, my Romanian wife deals with the administrative stuff, but unluckily I have to hear her complain about it (“bunch of idiots” and “ridiculous” sums it all usually.) When we came back to Romania after living in France for a couple of years, she was in shock to see her country with different eyes. She lived all of her life in Bacau so she never realized how dirty or broken down the city could be. I think that’s my biggest gripe about this country. A lot of things are not built properly. For instance, they repaved a sidewalk a couple of years ago, and now it’s already falling apart, literately. One cannot help think that someone’s cousin at city hall got the contract and did a shoddy job. Another example would be the 40 or so trash bins they installed 4 meters apart!!! As if more bins would make the place cleaner. The result is that half of them are now broken and trash still litters all over the place. There might have been some good intentions but execution is usually way off. In the meantime, the manholes are gaping or are plugged with oversized slabs of concrete, good luck getting a baby carriage around! The dirt doesn’t limit itself to the city either, a walk in the forest could be quite depressing when you see how people treat nature. The thing is that in other “more civilized” countries, even though people might not be too clean either in that aspect, they pay enough taxes to have a cleaning crew.

    That all sound negative, but overall, I think Romania has a lot of potential. It’s too bad and sad that it’s in a state of such disrepair. Is it lacking competent people at the helm? Probably. The problem might also be that the population is accustomed to low standards and don’t demand nor expect better where it matters. This is all the more frustrating when the little money available is wasted. Where is that energy and desire for something better? Did it run out 29 years ago?

    Reply
  6. As somone who has vacationed a LOT in Romania, I can say it’s not a third world country. I’ve been to many areas and for several days or weeks at a time. I can say Romania is far from a third world country. Unlike other tourists, I’ve literally been all over the country, with the exception of the north east area to Iasi and the north west, Oradea. I can say my favorite areas are in the Transylvanian region. Sure Romania is not as caught up as the Western countries, but as an American, do I want it to be? It’s precisely this old world feeling that makes it so special. I LOVE the fact that it is less visited. When I first visited back in 2005, it was REALLY far off any one’s travel radar. I’ve seen it change in so many ways, especially Bucharest. I’m so happy to see the growth and progress the country has made. I’m even considering retiring there I love Romania so much. So for me, if it’s a third world country, then it’s the best third world country on the planet!

    Reply
    • Really happy to read this, Brian. Indeed, Romania has grown tremendously over the years and you can really see the progress. There’s a lot of work to be done, but things seem to be heading in the right direction, despite the constant problems the country is faced with.

      Reply
  7. I see more and more people talking about Romania now, way more than before which is a good thing. I know that we loved our visit and want to see more of the country. It’s amazing how more people are seeking out the less traveled paths trying to find a good place to live, at least before it gets overhyped and extremely expensive. I remember a few years back when Dubrovnik was the place, now it’s so freaking expensive l cancelled it from my plans, Lisbon is almost there as well. A shame.. you want a place to become known, but not too much..haha! wanting your cake and eating it too.

    Reply
    • Exactly… soon the world will run out of cheap places for people to find 🙂 But Romania is still far behind in terms of tourists and buzz… which can be both a good thing or a bad thing – depending what your goals are 🙂

      Reply
  8. I recently got in trouble when I suggested Mexico was a “Third World” country. “Developing” and “developed” really are very broad categories. I found a “Human Development Index” that the United Nations puts out. It measures things like levels of education, income, and health. The USA was #17 in the world, far behind many European countries. Even Canada , Australia, and New Zealand ranked higher. Romania came in at 49th and Mexico was 74th. Out of 189 countries, those aren’t such bad rankings. The list also showed trends. Both Romania and Mexico had gone up in the rankings since the previous period. The USA? Dropped 3 ranks.

    Reply
    • I would say that the improvements in Romania are actually visible compared to some 10 years ago (and more). Even compared to 5 years ago, things are looking better. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but it’s good to know that we’re at least going up the charts.

      Reply

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